Baskerville Bible: Heavenly Letterforms

John Baskerville's beautiful typeface is just as relevant today as it was back in 1763. It was used for the famous Baskerville Bible.

Baskerville Bible: Heavenly Letterforms

* John Baskerville known as type-founder and printer
* Printed his Bible in Cambridge, England, 1763
* Innovator with printing techniques and ink
* Bible considered one of four most beautiful
* Frank DeFreitas reads from a Baskerville Bible page

PUBLISHED: April 29, 2020 | UPDATED: May 7, 2020

Neumann Microphones Berlin

Baskerville Bible: Heavenly Letterforms

More Podcasts, photos and resources: CLICK HERE

PRODUCTION NOTES: Telefunken CU-29 Tube Microphone (1945 Western Electric 6AK5 tube); Universal Audio LA-610 MKII Tube PreAmp & EQ / T4 Tube Opto Leveling Amplifier (all 1960's RCA 12AX7's, RAYTHEON 12AT7's, General Electric 6BQ5 tubes); Aphex 204; Harman-Kardon TD-4400 Tape Deck (Dolby C); SONY ES-II Magnetic Tape; Steinberg / Rupert Neve digital conversion; Alesis ML-9600 Mastering.

Baskerville Bible: Heavenly Letterforms

The Baskerville Bible is noted as being one of the four monumental Bibles printed throughout history.
The Baskerville Bible is noted as being one of the four monumental Bibles printed throughout history, the others being the Gutenberg Bible, The Doves Press Bible, and the Rogers Oxford Lectern Bible. CLICK / TAP PHOTO TO ENLARGE.

Some Bibles are considered Beautiful just because of their typography and printing. The Baskerville is just such a Bible…

Hello, my name is Frank DeFreitas, and I would like to welcome you to Wonders of the Bible.

The Baskerville Bible was printed at Cambridge, England, in 1763 by John Baskerville, born on January 28, 1706, and best known as being an English type-founder and printer.

It is noted as being one of the four monumental Bibles printed throughout history, along side the Gutenberg Bible, The Doves Press Bible, and the Rogers Oxford Lectern Bible. My Wonders of the Bible podcast will have upcoming programming on all four of these Bibles. With the Baskerville being our selection for this installment.

Up until this point in time, in the eighteenth century -- that's the 1700's, most Bibles were considered "beautiful" due to the quality, and or complexity, of their woodcuts, engravings, and etchings. This Bible was judged differently from the others: its beauty was determined by its typography, including smoother, whiter paper, and innovations in printing production, including ink formulation.

For many years of my younger adult life, I was involved with typography and typesetting. So much so that we named our youngest daughter's middle name as Novarese, taken from the Italian Type designer Aldo Novarese. Yet, I never realized that the typeface named Baskerville was designed by someone who also printed one of the most beautiful typographical Bibles in the entire world.

There's no doubt that the design of a typeface can lend authority to any particular message that needs to be conveyed. Isn't it interesting that the typeface used on a circus poster LOOKS like it should be announcing a circus? Or, the typeface that is used for a western-style steak house actually LOOKS like it came from the wild, wild west? Therefore, can one surmise that it is also possible to make a Biblical typeface that conveys the Holy Word of God? If so, then the typeface design used for the Baskerville Bible would have to be a top contender.

Frank DeFreitas holding his John Baskerville Bible page printed in Cambridge, England in 1763.
Frank DeFreitas holding his John Baskerville Bible page printed in Cambridge, England in 1763. CLICK / TAP PHOTO TO ENLARGE.

Let's turn to John Baskerville himself, to hear his thoughts on designing typefaces. This quote is taken from the 1758 preface to his edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Regained. As follows: "Amongst the several mechanical arts that have engaged my attention, there is no one I have pursued with so much steadiness and pleasure as that of letter-founding. Having been an early admirer of the beauty of letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to my self ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and have endeavored to produce a set of types according to what I conceived to be their true proportion."

If you look on the web page associated with this podcast, you'll find a few photos of this extraordinary Bible. It is not what would be considered a very common Bible, as it was issued in only 1,250 copies. But, keep in mind, back in "those days", every page of a book had to be hand-pulled on a large, wooden press ... VERY hard work!

Now, the Baskerville Bible did not please everyone. There were those that thought that the design of his typefaces held too much contrast between thick and thin strokes, of each letterform, which also added an air of excessive sharpness to the lettering. This, supposedly, caused extra eye strain for some readers.

Benjamin Franklin, of the American Colonies, had become friends with Baskerville, and would visit during his travels to England. It was Franklin who came to the defense of the typeface, himself being a printer as well, by asking one of the complaintants, to re-read a page from John Baskerville. When the complaintant stated that his eyes hurt, Franklin informed him that he was not even reading a Baskerville page at all! It was a typeface of yet another type designer, William Caslon. Whose first typeface, just so happens to have been designed for the Society for Promoting Christianity. It appears as if the prejudice heaped upon Baskerville's type design, had more to do with a prejudice against the man himself, rather than his typeface. Upon writing to Baskerville with this complimentary information, Baskerville was quick to publish Franklin's remarks -- as an endorsement.

A selection from the John Baskerville Bible printed in Cambridge, England, in 1763.
A selection from the John Baskerville Bible printed in Cambridge, England, in 1763. CLICK / TAP PHOTO TO ENLARGE.

An interesting side-note to William Caslon, is that the first printed version of the famous Declaration of Independence was set in Caslon type.

Baskerville himself was not a very religious man, if religious at all. Allow me to read a snippet that describes his viewpoint: He "unblushingly avowed not only his disbelief of, but his contempt for, revealed religion, and that in terms too gross for repetition."

So my own introduction to the history of Bibles is proving itself to be a very interesting one. My love of printing, typefaces, and all aspects of communication technologies (most notably lasers and holography), has brought me to a place where I can now share my love of the Holy Bible in very unique ways.

With that in mind, I realize that there is no need to reinvent the wheel each time I do an update and podcast. The internet continues to provide more than enough web pages covering these topics in great detail.

However, as a collector and exhibitor, I bring a special kind of viewpoint to the table: since, as a collector, I'm collecting Bible history that is of great interest and significance. And I can share these findings with you. What YOU choose to do next, is up to you. You can look into it further, or just browse the web page associated with this podcast, to see the pictures and explore the resources.

Now I would like to read to you the Bible verses on my, personal, John Baskerville Bible page. The page that I have in my collection begins with the 130th verse of psalm 119. I hope you will follow along. As follows:

Detail of a beautiful Baskerville Bible title page.
Detail of a beautiful Baskerville Bible title page.

130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

131 I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.

132 Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.

133 Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.

134 Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep thy precepts.

135 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; and teach me thy statutes.

136 Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.

137 Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.

138 Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful.

139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.

140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.

141 I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.

142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.

143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.

144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.

145 I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes.

146 I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.

147 I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word.

148 Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.

149 Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment.

150 They draw nigh that follow after mischief: they are far from thy law.

151 Thou art near, O Lord; and all thy commandments are truth.

152 Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.

153 Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law.

154 Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word.

155 Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.

156 Great are thy tender mercies, O Lord: quicken me according to thy judgments.

157 Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies.

158 I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.

159 Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness.

160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.

162 I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.

163 I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.

164 Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.

165 Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.

166 Lord, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments.

167 My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.

168 I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.

169 Let my cry come near before thee, O Lord: give me understanding according to thy word.

170 Let my supplication come before thee: deliver me according to thy word.

171 My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.

172 My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.

173 Let thine hand help me; for I have chosen thy precepts.

174 I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my delight.

175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me.

176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.

May God add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word.

Once again, my name is Frank DeFreitas, and may God Bless You Today and Every Day AND, REMEMBER, to always love others, just as Jesus Christ Loves YOU.

"Science is the study of the physical manifestations of God in action."
-- Frank DeFreitas (Click Here for BIO)
Visitors to Wonders of the Bible

tap or click for the bio of Frank DeFreitas

Wonders of the Bible: Our Prayer

Our prayer: "Thank you Lord Jesus for blessing and guiding our work. May it bring honor to Your name. May it inspire other Christians in their walk. May it reach and convict the perishing of this world, and help lead them to salvation. Amen."

Privacy and Terms of Service